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12.17.2012 , 08:30 PM |
VII: Looking Sideways
Must have been Alderaan. Sun filtered down through a fine tangle of branches and rustling leaves. He held her within an ever-shifting fretwork of gauzy light and gentle shadow, her head nestled into his chest. An empty flagon of Tarul wine and two comet-stone glasses lay nearby along with the remnants of a midday meal. There was a conspicuous absence of nutrient paste. A mild breeze stirred his hair, causing her to laugh and insist that it was tickling her scalp; he retorted that it couldn't be any worse than her facial jewelry creating permanent indentations in his flesh. A herd of uxibeasts grazing across the meadow suddenly became uneasy, stomping and snorting. He felt her stiffen. They spotted it at the same time: the manka cat slinking its way through the stand of trees near the big herbivores.
She was up and running faster than his senses could register.
Dual blades, xanthous-bright, blinding as she sliced through the air towards the stalking predator. She impacted with the ground and whirled in a graceful and complex series of strikes and deflections. He sprang to his feet- and sagged back against the tree when he saw her stride away from a lifeless sprawl of Imperial shocktroopers. A squad of Republic soldiers waited where the uxibeasts had been, their weapons lowering at her approach. For a moment his eyes darted back to the not-manka-cat corpses, the severed limbs and melted Imperial insignia on the armor.
That moment cost him...no, not cost him: spared him. She was sauntering back in his direction, a second swath of carnage behind her, lightsabers still ignited. The beams were a sullen scarlet.
They were pointed at him.
"You ate all the moon fruit, didn't you," she teased, a sinuous smile quirking up the corners of her lips.
"Oof. Yeah. That'll leave a mark," he muttered to himself, sliding his hand underneath his head and cupping the base of his skull. He had a funny feeling that he should have slept on the floor in front of the cargo hold; no chance
of falling out of a bunk and saying 'good morning' the hard way to bedside furniture.
Bad dreams, a hangover, a brand new contusion. Already one of
He hauled himself up- not without dizzy difficulty- and staggered to the galley, avoiding See-two and heading straight for the caf. It wasn't going to physically remedy anything, he knew, but he wasn't going to chance the ramp down to the medbay. As it was he almost collided with Rusk, who was rummaging around in one of the cupboards. He started to mumble an apology but the grim-faced Chagrian laid a steadying hand on his shoulder and cut him off.
"Fragile this morning, Doc? Have a seat," he nodded at the nook at the far end of the galley, "made some wicked strong caf for you, it'll set you right." A clatter of cups. "Right as you can be, anyway, for how you're feeling. You have my sympathy-"
"For what?" He sank into one of the seats, elbows on table and head drooping.
Bring it on, Sarge. Might as well get it over with.
"Who did I punch?"
"Nobody that I saw." Rusk clinked down a mug of something that smelled like burning hydraulic fluid and sat across from him, expression neutral. "You upset a pretty Twi'lek. Smashed a droid. Broke off one of Senator Grell's legs. Nearly got yourself flattened by a kid on a speeder. Worse than that night on Nar Shaddaa last month but no serious collateral damage."
He choked on a mouthful of the fiendishly potent brew and gaped at Rusk. "I broke off the Senator's
? That's not 'serious collateral damage'?!"
The Sergeant's hands raised in placation. "Relax. It was just one of those shrub-statues in the Garden of Justice. Worst case scenario is you've earned a lifetime ban from the Dealer's Den and Senate Plaza Security wants a word with you."
"Great. Just great. Where's my- the boss? Does she know about this?" Doc grimaced as he sipped. His palate might be barely able to tolerate the taste of the stuff but his stomach was downright offended.
Several minutes' worth of silence ticked away before Rusk cleared his throat and replied, "I took a couple calls just before you woke up. Kira and Tee-seven are on their way to the hangar-"
"Fine and dandy, but that still leaves us down one Jedi and one..." he trailed off, frowning at the viscous stuff in his cup.
Could be he had a mercy killing in mind when he made this gunk. Drink up, Doc
He was aware of his comrade's pitying scrutiny. He just didn't feel strong enough to face it.
Not right now.
Probably not ever.
Rusk was still talking. The words faded back in slowly through a surreal daze "-about that. Don't let your imagination run wild, soldier. The other call was specifically for you. Mouthy little cyborg lady. You know a 'Vee'?"
"Oh, I know the Captain," he grinned despite his glum mood, "she's no lady. Made you blush, huh?"
"I learned a few new words."
Doc ventured a glance. No pity. A trace of humiliation. The very first hint of a smile he'd seen on the Sergeant's face.
The day wasn't looking up- sideways, if he was lucky- but it was looking
"Never a bad thing to expand your vocabulary." Silently thanking the stars that he had a legitimate reason to leave the remainder of the caf-sludge in his mug, Doc gave Rusk a friendly clap on the shoulder and walked a bit easier to the holo than he had to the galley. He just couldn't,
admit to himself that the caf had anything to do with the spring in his step. He blamed Veolet. She'd made so many of his days brighter that he couldn't
be delighted by even her most foul-mouthed diatribes. Dodging blockades and using her black market contacts to get much-needed supplies to him and his patients, making him laugh when things seemed to be heading in downward spirals- she'd been there for him. They went so far back that he'd started to take her for granted until...the sequence was a new one to him, and when she crackled into scowling blue life he could tell that she was using a public terminal.
"Awww Vee...let me guess: you misplaced another ship? Looking
though, gorgeous." He knew it would needle her. And needling her was fun. Anything to take his mind off of...
A lengthy string of expletives in Basic and numerous various other languages spewed out before she stomped a booted foot. "Took you long enough. I didn't lose my ship, you slimy Hutt-son," she hooked her hair behind her ears, winking with her non-cybernetic eye. It was something he'd always found weirdly attractive, the enhancement. "Flattery will get you blaster bolts.
look like something the rancor dragged in, sat on, ate and vom-"
"Charming as ever. Got something interesting for me? Or did you ring just because you couldn't resist?" Of course he knew it was wrong to keep flirting with her. It had all been wrong since that half-remembered evening on Tatooine when he'd thought he'd lost Miri to the desert forever and called on Veolet to ease his grief. He'd taken Vee for granted until then and, when his head had stopped spinning the next day, he'd berated himself for letting their friendship escalate into something more. Miri had been asleep in their quarters when he'd stumbled in from a hard night's carousing.
And when he dug deeper he discovered that he didn't really care.
Her slight frame shifted into a more serious stance. "Think your Jedi can stay alive without you for a few days? I gotta tip that a certain Organa mucky-muck has some serious jewelry."
have 'serious jewelry', Vee. What's the catch?"
"She gave it away to some Rist pretty boy. Nice little fling, wonder what
pillow talk was like? Anyway. Now she wants it back, huge reward. Your cut would be enough to build a lot of Kimble Clinics..."
He let that sink in for a moment or three.
"I do, now and forever." 'Definitely and always- we married yet?'
"I don't know, I-"
, you rotten old scoundrel." She leaned over conspiratorially, as if someone else might be listening, her mouth puckering into a sultry pout. "All you have to do is keep a steady kolto hand and stay mum about us in front of Riggs."
"You didn't." What was
, the new knot twisting in his stomach?
"You crazy?" The diminutive cyborg snorted in disdain. "He's a
guy. Me and nice guys just don't work out."
He knew a cue when he heard one. "I'm in."
Kriff forever and always, but of all places...did it have to be
I had to break this up into two chapters in order to move things along. This chapter occurs simultaneously with the flashback at the start of the next. (addendum: no, no it doesn't- it
but that flashback itself has been broken up...see the author's note below VIII)
A mutant caricature of a tree rises far above them, its russet leaves shuddering in the bleak evening breeze; they are hidden, he hopes, within the coils of its massive roots. He cradles her head against his chest and stifles a growl of rage at her shivers. The rage has two targets: himself, and the medic who'd gone absent without leave long months ago.
The doctor wouldn't have been able to reach their location without gaining security clearance to set foot on the planet and then somehow miraculously employing a squad of commandos, but if he'd been aboard the ship- or just within holo reach- he might have been able to provide some modicum of medical insight that Scourge himself lacked. Heart-hurt with a hangover was no excuse to go scurrying off without leaving contact information, not when they were all so close to achieving what the rest of the galaxy deemed impossible. Curses for Kimble, a litany richocheting around inside his skull, curses and a nasty, literal shock whenever the cur turned up again.
Curses for himself, too, for not actively pursuing further knowledge of the darkness contained within this region before their hunt for Fulminiss led them here, before warped horrors had been constantly stalking them even as they stalked a far more dangerous warped horror. Of course, he reasons, even the Voss seem to know little about the blasted place, when one could coax them into talking about it at all. Inquries at the Shrine of Healing itself had been met with consternation and disbelief that anyone- especially outsiders- would even consider venturing into the Nightmare Lands.
But venture here they did. It was a vicious stroke of fate that just as he'd raised his saber to deliver the death blow the single survivor of a crysfang pack had lunged at
and swiped at her right thigh just above the knee. When she'd complained of sudden grogginess he'd knelt to examine the wound, had seen only a thin rip in her leggings and a faint pinkish scratch.
More yet milder curses for himself for abandoning his efforts to convince her of the need for thorough armoring. He'd grown weary long ago of her insistences that mobility took precedence over the increased protection heavier gear would provide- and he'd also become tired of conceding to himself that she was probably correct since she utilized form IV to the exclusion of all others. He could make up for a slight decrease in her dexterity, however, and perhaps this incident would serve to convince her of such.
Nothing like a mild poisoning to alter perspective.
He estimates that in total it had taken all of three minutes for semi-consciousness to set in.
Pearls of sweat bead up on her face. He wipes them away with the sleeve of his robe. Her eyes flicker open for the first time in what must be hours.
"Hello, you," he's careful to speak softly so as to not draw the attention of anything skulking nearby, with scrupulous effort made to keep the raw furor at Kimble and himself out of his tone, "are you back now,
"I think so," she whispers, a cold hand straining upwards and nestling under his chin.
It feels like a small frozen moth has alighted upon his skin. Pleasant. The stir of emotions it evokes is troubling but exhilarating. Something bellows mournfully, far too close for his liking. The ground trembles underneath them as the noise's owner nears. He clasps her to him tighter and pitches his voice down into hardly a murmur:
"Excellent. I do
lay claim to weak things."
* * *
Why are they back on Coruscant? Hasn't she heard this before? Been here already?
"I find it almost poignant, how near you are to a perfection you can never attain. The Jedi corrupted you, " fingers stifle the remonstration forming on her lips, "yes, they did. Corruption wears a myriad of faces and forms. They stripped away what was yours by right. By the will of the Force."
She swats him away. "If what you say is true then the Force led me astray, sent me running away to the Order when I should have gone to Korriban. It makes no sense. The pull towards Tython-"
"Youthful rebellion? If so then that in itself indicates much. The Force led you on a roundabout route to enlightenment, not 'astray'. It brought us here."
"To what end? We pace around each other. We bicker. Philosophy, light versus dark, code versus code, same old same old. Nothing we couldn't have taken back to the ship. We've made an even bigger mess by staying-"
"To this end. And beginning."
A fierce embrace, elegant in its swiftness.
Inexorable in its execution.
Dawn slants in through slatted blinds.
He skims a fingertip over the barbed tattoo inked upon her forehead. "Someday I hope to hear how you obtained this. You should know...I felt the suns on Tatooine. A memory magnified into more than reminiscence. The pain has been extraordinary since then. Veils are being torn asunder. His power wanes further by the second. Yours can only grow stronger. I have...lied to you."
"I know," she smiles into his shoulder, "should I expect more subterfuge?"
"By its very nature subterfuge requires a lack of expectations on the part of the deceived. Your candor is distracting...too distracting...are you back now, manosi?"
"I think so."
"Excellent. I do
lay claim to weak things."
The borderline-shabby room in the Seven Stars Inn begins to shake. Mirrigan sits up beside him, alarmed. A horrific groaning fills the air, her ears, her mind.
"What's that sound?" she asks.
He pulls her back down, locks her against him.
* * *
"Vorantikus. Be still.
," he hisses, hoping that for once she'll comply with a command. As pleased as he is to have her cognizant again, she's now a liability and will remain so until they can backtrack to Shad-Ka. From recent experience he knows that it takes both of them to bring down a single medium-sized vorantikus- and judging from the way his teeth are rattling the approaching creature is far larger than any they've yet encountered.
The beast is so close he can smell it, acrid rot, the stench of dead leaves and moldering bones.
Startled by the proximity of the monstrosity, he takes a perilous gamble and plunges into the darkness which engulfs and sustains the Nightmare Lands, draws it into himself and then pushes it out as a cloak of sorts, rising again with the exudation. It's a technique with which he has limited skill and the descent is excruciating, not unlike the battle he fought against the specter of Corruption during the trials. The ascent is even more arduous, whiplash tendrils of twisted dark side energy seeking to drag him back into the maw of the land.
Somehow he succeeds.
The vorantikus emits a rumble. Its thunderous footsteps meander away.
He notices that her breaths have become regular. Sleep, then. Dreaming, perhaps, as her lips are moving.
"Gone," he assures her although he's not certain she can hear him.
The ambient temperature around them seems to plummet.
* * *
He secures his saber to his belt. "This dalliance has lasted long enough. By my sworn word, in blood if you desire it, we'll have more. Until then, when we need be apart, you should keep Kimble as sane as possible and on a short leash."
"Give me a list if you like."
"I don't think 'Kimble' and 'sane' even belong in the same sentence."
"Stable enough to keep you alive should unforseen events arise, then. And beware your former apprentice."
Mirrigan grabs her own lightsabers from the floor at the foot of the bed. "She's a Jedi. Scheming, plotting out how to deceive our Masters...we tend to frown upon that."
"Quaint understatement. Quainter still that you of all people would dare to speak for the entirety of the Jedi Order. You equate betrayal with death, not incorrectly." He steps past her to open the room's door and inclines his head towards the empty corridor beyond. "Perfidy destroys more than mere flesh...but no more subterfuge- between us. Shall we depart this hovel and learn what our idyll has killed?"
"This will be ugly."
"I do hope so."
They traverse the inn's maze of hallways in perfect sync, matching strides, equal speed. A lift is ahead. They halt to wait for it. He pulls her to him.
"Gone," he whispers.
She shakes her head in befuddlement. "Who's gone where?"
* * *
She mumbles into his chestplate: "Who's gone where?"
Relief floods him that she hadn't raised her voice. "Not 'who'.
. The thing has moved on to easier prey. I confused it."
At a price
, he thinks bitterly. Meditating upon the dark side is one thing. Using it for sorcery is quite another, and using it for sorcery in
place is yet another. There had been plenty of time to study in between carrying out the Emperor's biddings; he had scoured the archives of the Sith Sanctum and the Academy on Korriban, scrutinized texts and artifacts acquired from slain Sith and Jedi alike.
Study but no formal training: he's no sorcerer. For the very first time he rues that fact.
Chills wrack him as the mask slithers off like a sentient shroud. He knows she feels it as well; she stirs restlessly, her hands scrabbling at the intangible shield.
Now we're both liabilities, to each other, for the time being.
"Go back to sleep," he adds a splinter of persuasion to the order. She frowns but obeys.
Remember to knock her senseless the next time she won't listen to reason,
he muses grimly.
He closes his own eyes, not to rest but to focus on purging himself of nightmare residue so virulent that it could drive even
This didn't turn out as originally planned (does it ever? lol). There are two separate points of view. Although it's influenced by minor delirium, Mirrigan's POV does accurately reveal what occurred that night/morning on Coruscant (someday I'll post that in its pristine, non-fractured form).
As for Scourge: writing from his perspective is addictive, expect more of it.
An inordinate number of crysfangs, vorantiki, twisted Gormaks, mawvorrs, shaclaws and nexus were fought for the sake of this chapter...
First light finds him prowling back and forth.
Back. Pause to assess the drowsing form he'd shifted gently off his lap, noting the regularity of its breaths.
Forth. Halt to scan the brightening landscape, vigilantly hunting for hunters.
Back. Forth. BackForth. Quicker. Grinding his teeth. Fighting the voices.
His voice. And His voice.
She will fail.
. Will fail. Strike her down. Incapacitate her unto helplessness. Find a way back. Demand to be taken into His presence. Kill your way into His chambers if you must. Lay her at His feet and kneel. Claim you never defected, that you only sought to eradicate an even greater threat than the one which earned you immortality, that you wanted to bring this greatest of threats to Him just as you did the other. Swear that your loyalty has been unwavering. Leave Fulminiss be to carry out His will and move quickly before He finds another lapdog. Beg Him for clemency.
. You had power, once. Now you lack the power to keep even an insignificant Jedi safe.
fail with her. Reclaim your power. You are
without Him. Torture her if He wishes it. End her if He orders it. Make her beg for the end.
. Imagine how-
He stops pacing and slams his fist into the nearest tree root.
A sere smell, arid decay. A shower of splinters.
-your darkest whims. You
it. You excelled at it. You could reach that pinnacle again. Feeding off her desire is little more than gnawing on air in comparison to the banquet her-
She stirs, stretches, stands and brushes shards of wood off of her shoulders.
Stares at him, her posture stiffening.
His hand closes around the hilt of his lightsaber.
Her hands mirror his motion.
"It's been telling me all about how Master Orgus had ulterior motives when he accepted me as his padawan. That I should have taken advantage of him to rise higher, faster. How I've wasted my connection with the Force and if I'd gone to Korriban I would have had
place by the Emperor's side. It keeps insisting that I should have killed Leeha
Jomar, just for the sake of ridding the galaxy of one more weirdo droid fetishist and her sniveling excuse-for-a-Jedi boyfriend. It says that you're simply a trap, a test set by the Order to gauge my devotion to the light because they've never trusted me. It wants me to give you to the Jedi Council. 'You' meaning 'your head'. What does it want
to do to
Sickening to whom? Not
. Surely not. You've committed sublime atrocities, you've-
"We could end this. In unison. Here, together."
"No. Drop it. I'll drop mine. On three."
I'll make a game of you. Bleed you of intel and essence. Then bleed you.
"Good luck with that. One."
So he'd said it aloud. He blinks hard, shakes his head. The voices intensify inside his skull, rise in a buzzing cacophony.
Break her. Yes, begin with the mind. Extract every useful morsel and then
before moving on to the body. His permission to do so will make it even sweeter. His approval. And when He consumes everything-
die, and with the exquisite taste of your fear lingering on my tongue." Freeing the hilt, he shifts into initial form VII stance, arm raised, readying himself to ignite the blade.
"You won't. Go right ahead and try, though." Her fingers flex, unhooking, but her face is calm. She takes a step towards him. "You
. You invited it in. You might as well have given it an engraved invitation. Whatever you did kept us safe, yes, but you're no better now than those addled Gormaks we ran into a few days ago. Snap out of it or I'll take the maps. You can stay here and revel in your crazy like a Gamorrean in a mudbath. Minus a few limbs." Another step. Hilts loose and gripped, twin shafts of golden light hissing to life at her sides, pointing at the ground. Her expression remains remarkably placid.
Your affection for her has crippled you. She is nothing. You are nothing with her, without Him. Reclaim. Power-
Go back to haunting your beasts and boneyards. You. Are nothing. To me. She is everything. And he will perish.
"Three," he finishes the count, his weapon falling.
* * *
it. My armor is sufficient. Have you not noticed the frost?"
"Sorry. I was too busy contending with a lunatic Sith to notice. Stop fussing and take it back. If I wanted a gentleman I'd dump you, divorce Arch and go find one. Is this another kind of madness? I think it's even creepier than the other."
"We have to get moving. If the toxin is still in your system a chill could cause a relapse." He tries to account for the curious surge of gallantry which struck after they'd taken time to individually regroup and confirm the restoration of sanity. It isn't in his nature, or hasn't been until this moment. The voices have disintegrated, leaving behind only echoes which are being swiftly smothered by an odd sensation of warmth. She
look absurd with his robe draped around her like that. "Try this," he grumbles, undoing her belt and sliding it off.
"Don't 'we have to get moving'? Can't this wait-" she bites her lip; he could swear she's blushing as he wraps the fabric around her and secures it so it won't drag when she walks "-never mind that. I'm not a morning person anyway."
"Oh? I can recall being exhausted before midday on more than a few occasions over the past months. You
to feel better." Their sabers are still on the ground. He picks them up, affixes his and then attaches hers to her waist, gliding his palms over her hips. Sudden hunger.
Another place. Another time. Quell it.
As reluctant as he is to do so he lets the touch trail away. "Do you?"
"Feel better? I've been through worse. Ever had a cup of Rusk's caf?"
"Ah. No. And I never shall. I've scented it. Your courage is inspirational."
"It's an experience. Maps? If you're done groping, that is."
"Well enough to tease. Right. Tala-Reh is no doubt far ahead of us now. I still question Gormak accuracy but- if you truly have no need to travel back to the outpost- let us have another look. No subterfuge?"
"None. Promise. A little walking, some exercise, I'll be one hundred percent. My muscles ache, probably from being huddled under that tree all night. That's it."
"If you say so."
Maps scrutinized again, he determines that they're not as far from the Dark Heart as he'd previously thought, a day at most if they don't dally. A speeder would have been convenient yet they'd agreed from the second they'd seen the proliferation of creatures on the outskirts of Shad-Ka that utilizing one would just further antagonize the wildlife. At that recollection he surveys the meadow for the umpteenth time since dawn. Empty but for a distant cluster of crysfangs. Safe to set off in the opposite direction, which is where they need to head anyway. He imposes a brisk pace just to verify her claim of wellness; she keeps up with him, demonstrating no sign of infirmity.
"You called me an 'idiot'." Only one of several troublesome things she's said this morn, things interfering with his ability to concentrate on their surroundings. Were the voices correct solely on that account? Crippling affection? The vast meadow left behind, rocky bluffs studded with stunted trees surround them: a canyon, a chokepoint. An empty chokepoint, yes, but still too dangerous to continue through without having full mastery of his senses. He slows and then stops altogether, leaning back against a fallen boulder and crossing his arms, chiding himself:
be done with this quickly, you are indeed an idiot for letting these trifles nag at you.
"Because you were being one. We can't stop here. Anything could amble along looking for breakfast and we'd be kriffed." She sidles close and peers up at him quizzically. "You're not, okay? Just then. I didn't mean all the time.
used to insult
intelligence on a daily basis and I didn't let it bother me. Can we-"
"Severing my head and presenting it to the Council. Leaving me in this place 'minus a few limbs'. Was that the darkness here or the dark side?" Better that he
mention her eyes to her. The irises boring into his own are no longer pallid ethereal blue- they glow sallow amber. He finds them enchanting but she...he has no idea of what her reaction might be.
Her features take on a pensive cast. "I could ask the same of you. Ugh. I'm plenty warm." The pensiveness gives way to irritation. She tears her belt off and struggles out of his robe. Balls it up. Throws it into his face. Straps the belt back on, mumbles: "It's the darkness
. I could never do those things to
. I love you. There. I said it. Let's
has to keep up with
, as fast as she's dashing ahead through the narrow canyon. He shrugs back into the robe as he sprints to her side, reaching it only to have her crouch and leap at a wandering nexu. Instead of joining her he waits and watches as she butchers the multi-eyed felid.
Graceful, relentless butchery.
He smiles to himself.
My significant other suggested that this chapter be entitled "The Mad Jedi and the Lunatic Sith"...